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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  September 9, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. tonight with skooms back in session for the fall, a conversation how to provide the best public education possible for every student in the country. no one debates that goal, but how we get there is rapidly becoming a battlefield with both teachers and students caught in the cross fire. we'll sort out opposing views and seek common grounds first with educator, and author and diane ravitch and then we'll turn to john deasy, superintendent of los angeles unified school district a man comfort for overseeing the education of nearly 650,000 students. glad you joined us. those conversations comie ing u right now. ♪
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♪m ♪ >> announcer: and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ as schools all over america reopen for the fall, teachers, policymakers and administrators are caught in what seems like a never-ending battle over how he educate our children, every decision from common core standards, generation equally
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passionate count argument. joining us tonight dr. diane ravitch profess at new york university, author of 25 books on education and advised both president george h. bush and bill clinton on education policies. diane ravitch, good have you back on this program from new york. >> wonderful to be with you, tavis. >> let me start by asking, i want to talk to dr. deasy the head of the l.a. school district in just a second -- more than a second but later on this program. i want to start by asking you a question about teacher tenure, dr. deasy, as you know, was a witness in that case. he spoke for the plaintiff in that case. and what this decision basically said is that we're going to rethink the rules about how teachers get tenured. the teachers union, i have seen this across the country, as an attack not just on their union but an attack on unions across the board. give us what this vagara
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decision meant and how you view it. >> well, i read the decision. i thought it was an absolutely dreadfully written decision of the nine children who were plaintiffs, not a single one of them had a bad 2kwteacher,ny identify a bad teacher. they were planing because some multimillionaire in silicon valley put up lots of money to bring this suit and now they're bringing the same suit in new york which has totally different rule for that tenure. but the problem behind the lawsuit is that tenure is perceived as being a khclife-t job and it is not a life-time job. when teachers get tenure, all it means is that they have the right to due process. if somebody wants to fire them, their principal wants to fire them, they have to show cause and have a hearing and present the evidence. i don't think that's unjust. i think it's fair. i think when the teacher -- when the teacher has tenure, it means that the principal has observed them in california it's two years in new york it's three years and some states it's four
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years, and there's tenure i think it's a very important basic right that if you're going to be fired after having been found satisfactory and doing your job well, someone should present evidence. i think that's fair to teachers. >> the way this conversation, diane, as you know has been framed and the way this lawsuit and the conversation about it has been framed is that teachers should not be given a life time appointment after two years on the job and you're saying that you don't see the issue being framed properly? >> it's absolutely wrong. tenure is due process and nothing more. it's not a life time job. if you're in a university, tenure means a life time job. if you're in a k through 12 school, it means the right to a hearing and i see nothing wrong with tenure. if the california legislature wants to make it a three-year waiting period to be tenured that's fine.
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>> your assessment of this vagara decision and what it means about teacher tenure, how do you read what's happening in our society visa v teachers become blamed for what's wrong in our schools, whether it's this decision, whether it's a documentary waiting for superman, whether it's any number of books that are being written, the campaigns are that under way, i get the sense, i could be wrong, i get the sense that there's a move in this country now to really go after and to blame teachers. are you seeing the same thing? >> i am saying that and i'm saying something more. i think there's a move under way to privatize public education. it turns out that there are a number of people who have opened charters who are making a lot of money, not all of them certainly.
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but there are federal tax programs where you can double your money in seven years by investing in the construction of charter schools. there are foundations like the walten foundationcome is a very right wing foundation that spends almost $200 million every single year promoting vouchers and charters and prooiftization. just in the past few years we've seen over 4,000 public schools closed down because of federal policy. i think there's a big move on first to blame teachers and secondly to say our public schools are so terrible we should close them down and hand them over to private entities. pri sitization is wrong. if you look at the best performing nations in the world, whether it's finland, our south korea or japan, they haven't pry vitized their schools. they don't have vouchers. they have strong public school systems where their teachers are experienced and respected. just attacking teachers and saying that you're going to fire somebody because you can get two cheap newcomers for the price of
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one senior teacher, that's ridiculous. >> so is that then how you regard this how do i put this, this conversation about public education reform, do you see this as a front to effort to privatize schools? >> i think it's a front for two things. a, it's so-called reform movement and i call it so-called because it really is not about a reform. when you attack the teachers of our children, that's not reform. when you attack experienced teachers, that's not reform.k4 when you attack public education as the cause of the problem, that's not a reform. all of this is about is, one, prooiftization and, two, ignoring the root problem that we have in this society which is that almost 25% of your children live in poverty. and the single most reliable predictor of low achievement is poverty because children are hungry, because they're homeless, because they come to
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school with all kinds of emotional and social and economic problems, which we're not solving. so instead of dealing with the real problem, which is how do we get that number which -- hovers around 23, 24% of kids living in poverty, how do we drive it down to where itñpi is in finland. we look at finland and say why can't we be like finland? their poverty rate is under 5%. if our poverty rate was under 5, we would think we have the greatest worlds in the school. >> i will ask dr. deasy this same question, diane, i wonder if you think fundamentally the american people still place public education at the top of their list of priorities? >> well, there have been a number of polls that show the american people if asked about public education they have had now 20 years of solid pounding, our public schools are no good, really you could take it back to 1983 to a report during the reagan administration called a nation at risk. our public schools are mediocre,
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they're failing, we're falling behind. this is such nonsense, in fact, our test scores today are higher. our dropout rates are lower than they've ever been in history. our graduation rates are higher. our public schools are doing a great job. but when the public is asked the question and they've been asked this by the gallup poll, what do you think about american public education, public has a very low opinion. they think our schools are terrible because we've had this 20 to 30-year pounding about our schools. but when the question changes to, well, how is the school that your own child goes to? how is your neighborhood public school? they say it's great. we have terrific teachers, i respect our teachers. we have a great local public school, but american education is in terrible trouble. so this is the result of movies like "waiting for superman" "federal government reports" the george w. bush program, no child left behind. these terrible programs are
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closing schools, demonizing schools. it's hard to be a public schoolteacher these days. my hat is off to them. they have a rough job. many are dealing with underfunded schools, with overcrowded classrooms and we should be grateful for the work they do. i certainly am. >> you mentioned the extreme amounts of money that are being poured into this so-called, as you put it, public education reform debate. on this program recently i had eli brood is one of the nation's leading billionaires and poured a lot of money into this conversation. he supports common core. your thoughts on common core? >> well, i think that common core actually is just a huge transfer program to pay billions of dollars for new technology because every test that every child in this country will take or at least in the states where common core is adopted has to be online. no more pencil and paper tests. that means literally billions of dollars, anywhere from 15 to $20
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billion have to be spent on new technology on a time when budgets are being cut. we have a huge need to reduce class size particularly for kids who are not reading well and need the teacher's extra attention. we should reduce class size and have universal pre-k. common core doesn't address any of the needs. the biggest problem being in new york is that the testing for common core has been made so hard that most kids fail. and i don't see the value of that. they've raised the passing mark so high that in new york state we've now had two renditions of the common core testing and 70eú of our kids fail the test. 70%. now, what does that do to a child's self esteem to say you're a failure? 95% of our kids with disabilities fail the test. more than 08% of black and hispanic children fail the test. there's no point in having a standard so high that we will end up having double the number of dropouts we have now.
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i think that common core is -- there may be good parts to it but certainly the testing part is horrendous. >> i got 30 seconds left. and i wonder if i can ask you right quick to grade for me the obama administrations effort at school reform that they call race to the top. >> race to the top is a disaster. it has@]': encouraged the prooiftization of schools, made testing more important than ever, it's tied teacher evaluation to their student test scores, which study after study has shown to be totally invalid. i would grade it an f. >> there you have it. she doesn't hold her tongue. diane ravitch has advised two presidents both republican and democrat. diane, good to have you on this program. all the best to you. >> thank you, tavis. coming up, we'll talk with dr. john deasy about lausd. stay with us.
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we continue our conversation now about the problems facing public schools in this country with dr. john deasy who is the superintendent of los angeles unified school district oversees a budget of $7 billion providing education for more than 650,000 students overhalf who live below the poverty line. she both an advocate for teacher's rights and opponent of teachers unions on tenure. dr. deasy, good to have you back on this program. >> good to see you again. >> let me start with the teacher tenure. >> sure. >> ruling that was rendered some weeks ago, finding teacher tenure aspects of it unconstitutional. you were a witness for the plaintiff in that particular case. tell me what your testimony essentially was and why you feel that way. >> sure. it was one of the five laws that were found unconstitutional in
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the state of california in the vagara trial. on the particular case of tenure, to me the way that we apply the law here in california is almost hard to believe how incredulous it is. it is neither fair to the teacher, it's neither fair to the system and in short the current tenure law which has now been found unconstitutional says that you will avoid tenure, which is determining the person may have a life time contract. after fundamentally 16 months on the job. and so, you will evaluate the teacher in their first year and then half way through the second year you have to make a determination to keep that person for life. that's insane. you wouldn't do that in any other profession whatsoever. it is unfair to teachers in two ways. one is it provides little or no time for improvement. nobody is the teacher in their first or second year that they are in their eighth or ninth year. i wasn't, anybody else wasn't either. second of all, is even in this ridiculous short period of time
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in california, we're not even allowed to provide the teacher with the mandated support to get better. and in the third reason is i couldn't think of a more problematic statute in terms of it's supposed to be objective. so, when -- because we don't want to make judgment on how well the person is doing, because people will say that that is biased. we will make the decisions in tenure based on a series of short classroom observations with little time to help the person get better. it's the same problem as is last-in, first-out, which was equally struck down. >> this decision as you know struck a cord all across the country. this was and still is a major topic being discussed because it's not about this particular teacher's union in california it raises questions across the board what happens to unions whether they have the right to demand certain things can be done in a certain way. >> right. >> for those who regard this decision and your testimony as a part of this trial as an attack
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on teacher's union, you say what? >> couldn't be anything further from the truth. one is, fundamentally we need a balance where students have the same rights as adults and not just taking away rights from the adults just so students can have them. they have no voice, no rights. and in the situation with adults, don't they have the right to show they can get better? i can't imagine why we would want to exercise such an important decision as awarding tenure in something as long as nine months and four additional months and that's going to make a decision -- they don't have the time to show they can get better. my testimony was crystal clear on the fact that i absolutely support tenure. i support it as a concept with a reasonable period of time for which to make that decision. it's an incredibly important decision and one should do that in more than a year and three months. as far as last in and first out, i don't support that in any fashion whatsoever. in the notion when you have to
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make decisions to lay off faculty because of budget cuts and we know here in california we've been through a horrific ddq sjátk for public education. the decision has to be made solely on the day the person is hired. well, why don't we use teacher height? that's objective. you can easily determine the tallest teacher. you wouldn't do that either. so why some day? you want to be able to make a decision on the contributions the teacher has made. you honor all the things the teacher as done. you have amazing, amazing teachers doing phenomenal work in the classroom and outside the classroom. none of that can be taken into consideration when you have to make a decision for last-in, first-out. >> before i ask you specifically about public school reform and how we actually get to that -- >> sure and what's missing in the conversation about that, there is simply whether or not you think that public education
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is still a priority for the american people. >> that's a really good question. i think it is to some. >> uh-huh. >> it is to some children. it's not for all children. we wouldn't in any way think whatsoever that it would be okay for some children but particularly children who live in circumstances of privilege not to have technology, not to have the best teaching, not to have the best supplemental courses, not to have a.p. courses, but we don't seem to be particularly or profoundly disturbed when that happens for students who have no voice, who are not white, who live in a circumstance of poverty, might not speak english as their first language. and i think that is the compelling interest when we are trying to make a situation in this country about the improvement of public education all.
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i don't think fundamentally it's an all youth agenda. >> how much of the problem is linked to poverty? >> a tremendous amount to it is linked to circumstances of poverty. we know that youth who lives in a circumstance of poverty can read just as well as you and i and we know that sometimes they cannot. what we do know is that all of the circumstances that youth and privilege have or take for granted are not found in some and many of the homes or communities youth who live in a circumstance of poverty. that's why we supplement. that's why we invest -- for example in l.a. when we did our budget for the first time changed the entire mechanism of investment. those who historically had the least get the most. that is what one does. that is -- that's a youth right agenda. there's no different than we took a look, as you have done a number of times on your show, at what was the history of how dedisciplined students and the
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disproportionalty particularly of black young men, particularly of latinas and why they're disproportionately higher in suspensions. you go into the system and stop the mechanisms that are targeting that that are not applied to white youth. >> as you mentioned, i've done a couple two or three primetime specials here on pbs. >> yes. >> talking about education and in particular on the young people of color. how is lausd started to rectify that problem of so many black and brown kids specifically getting written up for anything and everything? >> yeah. i guess in a way that i'm humble and unbelievably proud. so, we have taken to the board and changed the entire suspension policy. you can no longer use youthful defiance as a reason to suspend the youth. as you might suspect, achievement went up. highest achievement in our history in black youth in taking a.p. courses and achieving on
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state tests. why? because they're with us. we're not pushing them out. second of all is we ened the complete use of police citations for low level offenses. go to your principle match that's how we handle low-level offenses. if we treat every o offense, we will criminalizing youth and we in l.a. stopped doing that. those are two examples where you need to have balance. you would suspect just like we would hold strong, you will bring a weapon to school. you are going to bring drugs to school and sell those things, you are out and there's a consequence for that. if you have a cigarette in your possession, we are treating it the same way as if you have a handgun in your possession. the idea that zero tolerance meant no zero common is something we tried to rectify. the results were unquestionable. you pointed them out in striking clarity across the country. there was a disproportionate agroup on one students that was
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not found on others. we attempted to completely turn that around. >> this is a big question, but let me ask you any way. to your mind, dr. deasy what is missing in this conversation about public education reform? what are we not focussing enough attention on in this conversation? >> i will say two things. one is respect and balance in the conversation. it's kind of this sclil rhetoric in this country where zefrg a politic of hatred. you're with kids or against kids. you're an anti--reformer or you're a reformer, you're either unionist, a labor democrat or actually -- >> union buster. >> or a union buster. that's insane. >> yeah. >> and when that has happened to the one structure that was designed to equalize everybody in this country,.9 a problem. and the second piece is a different issue and that is i do not see evidence, at least in
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our -- i'll talk about the big cities. i do not see evidence that we actually believe in all youth. that we actually believe that we can hold high expectations for all students. you know, we're in a almost hard to imagine debate about what we should do with a 4 or 5-year-old who has come to this country to escape the fact that their parents were brutally murdered and that they may have disease or gang member. seriously? no. you take students where they are and you help students and you craft laws that are reasonable and respectful for all students. because a student does not speak english does not mean the student doesn't know math. it means they don't know english. and the kind of general application is that we hold differing beliefs around students. so we have lost a balance about respectful rhetoric and debate and we hold uneven expectations for students. by the way, both are correctable. >> yeah. i'm not naive in asking this, but how do you extract out of
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this conversation about public school reform the politics? the politics always seem to get in the way and the evidence is clear whether you're talking to republican or democrat running for office, whatever it might be for mayor, president, for governor. >> right, they all want to talk about how they will fix education and yet the politics always seem to get in the way. >> yeah. i think the politics at times are very brutal. incredibly personal. lot of attack and completely detracts from the what the purpose is. as a society, we're judged by how we treat students and how we treat the youth. and if we had more time thinking about targeted investment and improving the conditions for students and teachers and we spent less time tearing down each other's thoughts, so that what we did is a continuous process of trying to get better, heck of a lot forward while maintaining the appropriate rights of the adults who work with them. >> 650,000 students everyday, $7
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billion district where 100 different languages are spoken, that's the job he has everyday. i'm glad he's doing it but i don't want it. dr. john deasy, thanks for your work on this issue. >> appreciate it. >> that's our show for tonight. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. ♪ >> announcer: for more information on today's show, visit tavissmiley at >> join me for a conversation about the world wild response to the ebola epic. that's next time. we'll see you then.
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